Comparisons are a vital part of sports. We can't set our eyes on a new talent without immediately pointing to who that player reminds us of, like the Leonardo Di Caprio meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I do it too, so I wish I had an answer for why we can't escape the jaws of a player-comp,...
The Knicks Are Exactly Where They Want to Be
By: Khaqan Khan
Last season under Tom Thibodeau's first year, the New York Knicks found themselves at the 4th seed. Behind a stingy defense and the unlikely emergence of Julius Randle, the Knicks had the Garden rocking in the playoffs. The Knicks embraced their roots as a tough-minded, underdog team that plays hard every night.
With a roster consisting of Alec Burks, Reggie Bullock, and Taj Gibson as key role players, many thought they overachieved, having their starters play long minutes and extra hard during the regular season when other teams weren't. I'm not going to argue that Taj Gibson could take any team to the playoffs as a starting center. However, no one can deny that under World Wide Wes and Leon Rose, the Knicks are heading in the right direction.
Knick fans should feel confident that this time is different because the Knicks stayed patient and didn't prematurely go all-in like they did when they had Kristaps Porzingis, trading for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Instead, the Knicks addressed the needs, accumulated a little more draft capital, and resigned key contributors from last year. That's huge! Old Knick regimes would have traded Barrett for Russell Westbrook and overpaid Tim Hardaway Jr to come back. Instead, they signed Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, and Nerlens Noel to team-friendly deals.
During the draft, they traded their late first-round pick to get more future draft assets and yet still managed to draft players that have a chance to develop into bench contributors in Quinten Grimes and Jericho Sims. Perhaps the best move they made was signing Kemba Walker. Not only did it address a need, but bringing Kemba home is the definition of fan service. Best put, the off-season was measured. All of this is worth mentioning because the Knicks set themselves up to acquire a future superstar while remaining competitive with their current roster. Not only that, they have promising young players to point to in RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickly, Obi Toppin, and Mitchell Robinson.
A franchise like the Knicks does not need to tank. Small market teams tank because they know the only way they'll get a star is through the draft. Big market teams have the luxury of getting by doing the bare minimum relative to their small market counterparts. Looking in the last few years, the Knicks are on the path of the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Brooklyn Nets. These teams show enough competency that ensures star players go to a team where they can win immediately.
The Clippers rebuilt on the fly using the pieces they got from trading Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They made the playoffs with a very fun team, rookie Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Lou Williams, and an emerging Tobias Harris. The Nets did something more impressive coming from the depths of hell to making the playoffs with D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie, not to mention the amazing bench Belgrade led by Jared Dudley. The Lakers are sort of the outliers of this group in the sense the team didn't make the playoffs, but they did acquire enough young talent that ensured LeBron that he could make Anthony Davis join alongside him.
The Knicks don't have to do what the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing. They just have to prove that they have changed their ways and now have a structure in place to show stars that if they come they can have a chance to contend.
Players around the league have always gleamed about how Madison Square Garden is the best place to play. During their 1st round series against the Hawks, it was evident that the Garden was back. Do not underestimate that. We saw how Julius Randle was immediately immortalized for taking the Knicks back to playoffs as a 4th seed. Imagine a player like Damian Lillard's caliber coming to New York to team up with Randle and then hitting 3s from the logo during the playoffs? Even though he already solidified himself in the history books, his status as an all-time great would elevate to Meteoric levels. Not to mention what it would do for his rap career.
Let's say Damian Lillard wants to be traded to the Knicks. There is a situation where the Knicks can trade all of their young players with draft picks and still keep Julius Randle as well as other key role players. Then free up cap space to lure free agents without having to overpay them. Lillard might be a little Far-Fetched, but don't count out Zion Williamson, who has repeatedly told the public he would love to play in New York in Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks this season will most likely be another lower seed playoff team that gets knocked out in the first round again, and that's okay. It's not okay if you're the Orlando Magic of the past delaying the inevitable rebuild in favor of the expected first-round exits. World Wide Wes and Leon Rose just have to prove their competence to keep the Knicks relevant. If Knick fans can stay patient, they will eventually land a star that could finally take their beloved franchise in the Mecca of basketball to the promised land. Maybe then, just maybe, their fandom be justified.
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